Yes, I am haunted by voter turnout statistics.
And you should be, too.
Because this report from Nonprofit Vote has some fairly alarming data about what happened to voter turnout in 2010, particularly compared to 2008.
All of which matters tremendously for 2012.
And these figures should serve as a challenge for nonprofit organizations, because we are uniquely positioned to move the needle on these particular populations’ voter turnout.
And so we must.
Some of the “highlights”:
- Only 24% of youth (ages 18-29) turned out in 2010, a sharp drop from 51.1% in 2008. When so much is at stake for future generations–the state of the economy, the future of entitlements, the availability of higher education, the likelihood of future foreign conflicts–allowing these decisions to be made, essentially, with only marginal input from those most affected is unconscionable.
- There was a 20 point turnout gap between members of lower income and higher income households. Nonprofit organizations have strong relationships in many low-income communities, and significant presence as institutions shaping their lives. If we want to be a true, vibrant democracy, we’ve got to do better than this.
- Only 35% of those with a high school diploma or less turned out in 2010, compared to 61% of those with a college degree or more. We will end up with policies that only work for those highly-educated, if only those who have been so advantaged are writing the rules.
- There was a 34 point turnout gap between individuals who had resided in their home for less than a year (28%) and those who had resided in their home for at least 5 years (62%). Because this is often a proxy for both age and income, and because mobility is associated with some technical difficulties in actually registering and voting, we should make it a priority to reach out to those who are new in our communities, and to pursuing public policies (same-day registration, anyone?) that remove barriers to voter participation for these more mobile citizens.
There’s nothing magic, or even all that shocking, about these statistics; we know that those who are marginally connected to our political life 364 days a year–separated from the policies’ development, although certainly not from their impact–do not magically connect on Election Day.
But these statistics should be alarming to us, both because of what they represent about the failings of our representational system, and because nonprofit organizations need our constituents, including those who fall into the categories above, to participate in the electoral system if we hope that it will ultimately reflect our concerns.
So, I see these data as a to-do list. We know who we need to target for voter registration and Get-Out-the-Vote work, and we even have some benchmarks that can guide our definition of what “success” looks like.
And close the gaps.